Nepal's National Cyber Security Policy Raises Concerns Over Internet Freedom and Privacy

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Critics Allege Lack of Public Consultation and Compare the Policy to China's and India's Internet Control Measures

KATHMANDU — Nepal's recent adoption of the National Cyber Security Policy 2023, featuring a provision for a National Internet Gateway (NIG), has raised alarm among cybersecurity experts and stakeholders. This move is seen by many as an attempt to exert extensive control over the nation's internet ecosystem without adequate public consultations.

Of particular concern is clause 11.25 within the policy, which outlines the establishment of the NIG—a centralized mechanism for monitoring and controlling internet traffic, effectively placing all monitoring powers in the hands of the government. This provision, which was not present in the 2021 draft of the Cyber Security Policy, has sparked worries about its potential impact on freedom of speech and privacy.

Government officials argue that the NIG is crucial for enhancing national cybersecurity, enabling the monitoring and blocking of potentially malicious traffic, and countering cyberattacks and misinformation. However, experts believe that such centralization could compromise the openness of the internet and curtail digital freedoms.

Critics, including cyberlaw and media technology specialist Baburam Aryal, argue that the government's lack of stakeholder consultation reflects an intent to control rather than serve the public's interests.

In the wake of the policy's revelation, cybersecurity experts expressed concerns that the policy's aim may be more about controlling individuals' data than bolstering trust in Nepal's information technology and digital systems.

Aryal suggests that the government's motivation behind the NIG might be rooted in concerns about the role of the internet and social media in politics. While these platforms have become tools for politicians to gain power, they can also pose challenges to those in authority, potentially explaining the desire to restrict citizens' internet use.

A 2020 survey by the Oxford Internet Institute highlighted social media manipulation as a growing threat to democracies worldwide, shedding light on the broader implications of internet control measures.

Michael Caster, the Asia digital program manager for ARTICLE 19, an organization advocating for freedom of expression, draws parallels with China's Great Firewall and Cambodia's National Internet Gateway, highlighting the potential repercussions of such measures on internet freedom and the flow of information between Nepal and the global community.

Caster argues that the government's decision, which lacks transparency, could be an attempt to assert control over internet use by citizens, echoing similar measures seen in China and India.

In February 2021, India introduced new regulations for social media and digital streaming platforms, raising concerns about potential censorship and government oversight.

While Netra Prasad Subedi, spokesman for the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, asserts that the policy does not curtail freedom of expression, critics remain skeptical about the implications of the NIG and its impact on internet freedoms and privacy in Nepal.